Not a single verse in the Holy Quran declares blasphemy to be a crime punishable by man.
It is condemned on moral and ethical grounds, no doubt, but no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam, despite this commonly held view in the contemporary world.
Although the Holy Quran very strongly discourages indecent behavior and indecent talk, or the hurting of the sensitivity of others, with or without rhyme or reason, Islam does not advocate the punishment of blasphemy in this world nor vests such authority in anyone.
The Holy Quran repeatedly mentions blasphemous utterances of the non-believers against the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) but not a single time, NOT ONCE does it mention any punishment by man.
For example, it is stated in the Quran that disbelievers made a jest of the Holy Prophet (21:37). He was called ‘a mad man’ (15:7), ‘a victim of deception’ (17:48), ‘a fabricator’ (16:102), and ‘treated as a liar’ (35:26). They called the revelation as ‘mere stories of the past‘ (16:25), the Quran as ‘confused dreams’ (21:6), urged people to ‘not to listen to the Quran, but make noise during its recitation’ (41:27), and even ‘tore the Quran into pieces’ (15:92).
And despite this repeated utter ugliness of blasphemy, Allah advised him “We will certainly, suffice thee against those who mock’ (15:96) and that ‘And follow not the disbelievers and hypocrites, and overlook their annoying talk and put thy trust in Allah; for Allah is sufficient as a guardian’ (33:49); and ‘bear patiently what they say” (20:131).
The only form of protest/reaction Islam allows is this: “When thou sees those who engage in vain discourse concerning Our Signs, then turn thou away from them until they engage in a discourse other than that” (6:69).
In response to blasphemy, Islam disallows any human being to take the punishment of the blasphemer into his or her own hands.
Rather, it declares that people should register their protest against blasphemy by staging a walkout from an assembly of men where religious values are being mocked and ridiculed. But this boycott is only until they engage in a civil discourse, not a boycott forever.
Blasphemy is again mentioned in (6:109) where hypothetically discussing the question of blasphemy, Muslims are being addressed and strictly prohibited from blaspheming even the idols and imaginary gods of the idolaters. In another verse blasphemy against God himself is mentioned yet no right delegated to any human authority to punish blasphemy against God (18:6).
Again, a grave blasphemy committed by Jews in regards to the Holy Mother of Jesus (may Allah be pleased with her), Mary is mentioned in the Holy Quran. They declared her to be unchaste, and Jesus (peace be upon him) to be the child of questionable birth yet surprisingly again, no physical punishment is prescribed (4:157).
The life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is replete with instances of blasphemy and him pardoning literally each one of those instances.
Let us present some examples to make it obvious:
- Abdullah Bin Ubayy (a hypocrite) once called himself ‘the most exalted’ and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as ‘most mean’ (63:9) among a congregation of Muslims. He lived peacefully thereafter in Madinah till his natural death when Prophet Muhammad himself led his funeral (more on this towards the end)
- When Makkah fell to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he pardoned ALL those who had insulted him for years.
- The Leader of Makkah (Abu Sufyan) who had led most wars against the Prophet (peace be upon him) and even ‘Wahshi’, who had killed the Prophet’s real uncle (Hazrat Hamza, peace be upon him) were also among the ones pardoned.
- ‘Hinda’, who desecrated the body of the Prophet’s uncles by tearing out his liver and chewing it to fulfill her savage vow was also pardoned.
- Even ‘Habbar’ was not punished, who had mercilessly struck with the spear the camel on which the Prophet’s daughter was mounted which caused her to have a miscarriage and as a result of this illness, she died not long after.
In the end, the most sensitive area for the Muslims of today is blasphemy against the Holy Founder (peace be upon him) of Islam. Muslims of today are more sensitive to it than blasphemy against anything else—even God!
The dealings of the Prophet of Islam in this matter stand out as the most exemplary and supreme and hence reiterate that Islam does not proclaim death or punishment for blasphemers.
This case of blasphemy is so serious that it is recorded in the Holy Quran itself, which speaks of ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul’ known in the history of Islam as the Chief of Hypocrites. Once returning from an expedition, ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy declared in the company of others that the moment they returned to Medina, the noblest would expel the meanest among the Medinites.
“They say, ‘If we return to Medina, the most exalted will, surely, drive out therefrom the most mean,’ while true honour belongs to Allah and to His Messenger (peace be upon him) and the believers; but the hypocrites know not” (63:9).
Everyone understood the implied insult to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). They were seething with indignation and rage to the extent that, if permitted, they would have most certainly put ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy to the sword. It is reported authentically that tempers were running so high at this incident that no less a person than the son of ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy himself approached the Holy Founder of Islam seeking permission to kill his father with his own hands. The son argued that if anyone else did so, he might later on, in ignorance, entertain the thought of revenge against his father’s killer. For centuries, the Arabs were accustomed to take revenge at even the smallest insult hurled at them or their close relative. Perhaps, this custom was what the son had in mind. But the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) refused to grant his request nor did he permit anyone else from among his Companions to punish the hypocrite, ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy, in any manner whatsoever (1).
Having returned to Medina after the expedition, ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy continued to live in peace. When he died, at last, a natural death, of course, to the surprise of everyone, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) gave ‘Abdullah’s son his own shirt so that he could enshroud his father’s body for burial—a singular act of blessing, indeed, which must have left the other Companions yearning to barter it from the son at the cost of all their possessions. Not only that, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) decided to lead his funeral prayer. This decision must have deeply disturbed many of his Companions who could never forgive ‘Abdullah for the grievous offence mentioned above. Yet, it fell to the lot of Umarra, who later succeeded the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the Second Caliph to give voice to their suppressed uneasiness.
It is reported that as the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was proceeding to the funeral, Umarra suddenly stepped forward and stood in the way begging the Prophet (peace be upon him) to change his decision. In doing so, Umarra reminded the Prophet (peace be upon him) of the verse of the Holy Quran in which reference is made to some known hypocrite on whose behalf intercession would not be accepted even if the Holy Prophet (saw) prayed for him seventy times. However, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) smiled and responded: Stand aside, Umarra. I know better. If I know God would not forgive him even if I seek forgiveness seventy times, I would seek forgiveness for him more than seventy times. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then led the funeral prayer (2).
This is a fitting rebuttal to those who are crying themselves hoarse in demanding death for any blasphemer who dares to insult the Holy Founder (peace be upon him) of Islam with nothing but death.
- Narrated by Ibn Ishaq: Al-Sira tun Nabawiyya by Ibn Hisham, pt. III; p. 155
- Bukhari, Kitabul Jana‘iz, Babul Kafani fil Kamisilladhi Yukaffu ‘aula Yukaffu